How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 diabetes increasingly affects children and teens. Unlike type 1 (what used to be considered juvenile diabetes), type 2 can often be prevented or risks lowered by following a healthy diet and making family lifestyle changes.

This article discusses what causes diabetes in children and how to prevent diabetes type 2 in childhood. 

Mother and child at doctor's appointment

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Type 2 Diabetes in Children

Type 2 diabetes was considered adult-onset diabetes, but this is no longer accurate. An increasing number of children are considered above weight, and being overweight is a known risk factor for insulin resistance (when the body does not respond to insulin as it should), which is a sign of type 2 diabetes. 

Factors that can raise the prevalence for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Above weight or obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle (not having much physical activity) 
  • Hormonal changes in puberty
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Your birth parent having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • Having another medical condition that creates insulin resistance 

Check With Your Healthcare Provider 

If your child is above weight and has any two of the above risk factors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended you consider speaking with their healthcare provider about blood sugar testing.

Additional signs to watch for include skin patches in skinfolds or armpits. Skin patches are thickened, dark, velvety areas called acanthosis nigricans. You might want to check with your healthcare provider if you see signs of these skin patches on your child.

Make a Family Food Plan

Making a family food plan may help your child maintain a healthy diet and prevent type 2 diabetes. 

What to Eat

To help prevent type 2 diabetes, incorporate the following foods into your child's diet:

  • Fruits
  • Non-starchy vegetables like peppers, broccoli, asparagus, and spinach
  • Whole grains like brown rice, steel-cut oatmeal, and quinoa
  • Lean cuts of meat
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Low-sodium foods

What to Avoid

Foods that create sudden changes to blood sugar levels should be avoided or limited. These food items include:

  • Highly processed foods, including baked goods, fried foods, and processed snack bars
  • Sugary foods and beverages, including fruit juice
  • High-fat foods such as full-fat dairy and fatty meats 
  • Simple carbohydrates like white bread or flour
  • Takeout or convenience meal items 

Portion Size

Portion sizes are also important because eating too many carbohydrates in any one sitting can cause blood sugar peaks.

The goal in managing type 2 diabetes is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels (i.e., keeping them in a healthy range) as much as possible. Portion sizes should include a balance of carbohydrates (including fiber), lean protein, and healthy fats.

You may consider consulting with a dietitian who is experienced in type 2 diabetes to develop a diabetes-friendly meal plan that works for the whole household. 

Meals Together

Eating meals together can help your child slow down, focus on the food, and feel supported in their efforts to eat a diabetes-friendly diet. Avoid eating in front of the television and instead sit down at a table together.

Get Active

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that every child participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. This can be accomplished in several smaller sessions or all at once by participating in activities such as:

  • Walking, jogging, running
  • Skipping rope
  • Hula hooping
  • Yoga or stretching
  • Karate
  • Ballet or dance

Family Activities

Physical activity can also be incorporated into family activities such as:

  • Playing games like volleyball, soccer, basketball
  • Swimming
  • Going for neighborhood walks
  • Playing miniature golf
  • Kayaking or paddleboarding
  • Playing interactive video games that get you moving

Consider talking to your healthcare provider about how to maintain a healthy weight in children. 

Check Other Health Stats

When speaking with your child’s healthcare provider, you may want to ask about checking other signs of diabetes like high cholesterol, high triglycerides, or high blood pressure (hypertension), as these are all common in people with diabetes.


Children can and do have high levels of cholesterol, and this can be a sign of prediabetes or diabetes. One 2020 study found 47.7% of children with type 2 diabetes also have high cholesterol levels.

This puts them at increased risk for heart disease and heart failure later in life. In the same study, another 16.4% of children with type 2 diabetes met the criteria to start taking heart medication. 


Triglycerides are a type of fat found in a person’s blood. Uncontrolled, undiagnosed, and/or unmanaged diabetes is a risk factor for high triglycerides. High triglycerides may lead to metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors that can lead to conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Blood Pressure

One in 25 children 12–19 years old have high blood pressure, and 1 in 10 have prehypertension, a warning sign of high blood pressure in the future. High blood pressure and diabetes increase heart disease risk.

What Age Should You Check Blood Pressure?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that parents ask about blood pressure monitoring for children starting at age 3.

Reduce Stress

Stress has an impact on your child’s overall health. It is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes in children. While it doesn’t cause diabetes, stress is said to affect blood sugar levels and make managing childhood diabetes more challenging.

Coping Skills

Stress coping skills in children include:

  • Getting enough physical activity
  • Having adequate time for fun activities
  • Talking with a trusted peer or adult
  • Writing (journalling or word expression) activities 
  • Spending time in nature 
  • Practicing mindfulness 

Healthy Sleep Habits

Establishing healthy sleep habits at a younger age can set your child up for success in reducing stress and preventing diabetes. It’s recommended children between six and 12 years old get 9 to 12 hours of sleep a night and teens get 8 to 10 hours a night to keep stress under control. 


Type 2 diabetes in children is preventable. Maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough physical and social activity and sleep, and managing stress levels are all strategies for preventing type 2 diabetes in children and teens. If your child has several risk factors for diabetes, you may consider speaking with a healthcare provider about screening for diabetes.

A Word From Verywell 

Many factors contribute to a child’s risk of type 2 diabetes. So if you feel as though you have been “doing everything right” but your child has developed type 2 diabetes anyway, please don’t feel you are to blame. Detecting the signs early on and seeking support from a healthcare provider can improve your child's health and prevent lifelong problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is diabetes diagnosed in children?

    Diabetes in children is diagnosed with a basic blood panel test. Your healthcare provider will test for markers of prediabetes and diabetes such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. Blood sugar measuring and monitoring will also be used to determine diagnosis. 

  • Is type 2 diabetes genetic?

    Genetic factors, like having a family history of diabetes, may make a person more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Genetics is not the only contributing factor to diabetes, though. Environmental factors play a role, too. 

  • Can a child get diabetes from eating too much sugar?

    Eating too much sugar on a regular basis may create excess calories in the diet, which may lead to excess weight and obesity. Obesity in children is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Healthy eating with diabetes.

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  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Diabetes and high blood pressure

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  8. MedlinePlus. Triglycerides.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure in kids and teens.

  10. Wong H, Singh J, Go RM, Ahluwalia N, Guerrero-Go MA. The effects of mental stress on non-insulin-dependent diabetes: Determining the relationship between catecholamine and adrenergic signals from stress, anxiety, and depression on the physiological changes in the pancreatic hormone secretion. Cureus. 2019 Aug 24;11(8):e5474. doi:10.7759/cureus.5474

  11. American Psychological Association. How to help children and teens manage their stress.

  12. American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP endorses new recommendations on sleep times.

  13. Standford Medicine Children's Health. Type 2 diabetes in children.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.